What misdirection, that title. Los Campesinos!, a band focused entirely on the messy entanglements that come with love and its attendants (like breakups and a girl not liking K Records), have decided Romance Is Boring. Tongue in cheek? You bet. Three songs here are predicated on the notion that there is a list of 200 heart-wrenching breakups that is discussed by talking heads on TV. On their third album (second, if you ask the band members, who don’t count the splendid We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed), they are still very concerned with romance, but the notable thing isn’t that; it’s that the members of Los Campesinos! have, over the course of having 2009 off, morphed into the most confident twee-indie-pop band on the planet. Romance Is Boring might sound, in description and on wax, very similar to the band’s work, but there’s a palpable confidence here that wasn’t present just an album ago, and it makes Romance Is Boring the key entry in an already ballooning discography.
The center of Los Campesinos!’ orbit, as always, is lead singer Gareth (first names only for the band). He is fast becoming the poet laureate for the post-Internet, disaffected-youth set. His lyrics are barbed with nuggets of information, not unlike a literate status update. “I remember being naked to my waist, but not which direction,” he sings on the frantic “These Are Listed Buildings,” before claiming he’s learned “more from these toilet walls than these words of yours” on album highlight “We’ve Got Your Back.” He demands “more post-coital and less post-rock” on “Straight in at 101,” before lamenting that in his imagined countdown of the 100 most heart-wrenching breakups of all time. Plus his eye for detail is impeccable: When discussing a girl who is good at video games, he says they “call her triple-A,” the default initials for a high score on arcade games. Not to mention the titles of these songs, which stretch on like lines from a haiku (“A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State, Or, Letters From Me to Charlotte” is the best).
Musically, apart from stylistic left-turn on the ballady “Who Fell Asleep In” and some electronic instrumentation, this is the same Los Campesinos!. Songs veer from frenzied to frenetic, xylophones are as prominent as the vocals, and the whole thing feels like a sugar high. Romance Is Boring is one of the few albums that can be described by the label that released it; want to know what you’d need to sound like to be signed to Arts & Crafts, the label of Broken Social Scene? Spin Romance Is Boring.
Perhaps the reason why Romance Is Boring feels like a bigger success than its similar predecessors is the tightness of the product. There’s a handful of honest-to-god anthems here, particularly the title track, which is a svelte two minutes of barroom-ready rawk. After two albums an EP of finding their sea legs Los Campesinos! are firm in their footing on Romance Is Boring, which at the very least should vault them from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at this summer’s inevitable festival dates. That, in turn, should provide plenty of material for the next album of acerbic wit, xylophones and superfluous exclamation points.
In 2008 the Welsh septet Los Campesinos! came out with the art-pop combo of Hold On Now, Youngster... and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Both albums were dizzying, high-energy affairs that ended up on various year-end lists and set expectations high for the follow-up. Romance Is Boring features guest spots from Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart, the Dead Science's Jherek Bischoff, and Parenthetical Girls' Zac Pennington, and production work from Wu-Tang and Sleater-Kinney knob-twiddler John Goddmanson. Featuring a more intense sound evidenced by early track "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think About the Future," the band says the record is "about death and decay of the human body, sex, lost love, mental breakdown, football and, ultimately, that there probably isn't a light at the end of the tunnel." Heady stuff from a group whose last mission statement was "It's you! It's me! It's dancing!"